President Trump is right to continue his drive to remove combat troops from Syria and Afghanistan and can cite the success of the privatized Flying Tigers in World War II as a way of finding economy of force during transition operations.
U.S. troops have been carrying the lion’s share of these fights and have mostly accomplished the original missions of each. In Syria, ISIS is largely defeated, save rogue terrorists that will continue to attempt asymmetric attacks. In Afghanistan, Coalition forces have trained and equipped 175,000 Afghan National Army and 150,000 Afghan National Police Forces that can secure their country.
To be sure, we maintain strategic interests in each of the regions. In Syria, we need to deny an Iranian land bridge to Israel and the Mediterranean Sea. In Afghanistan we need to ensure the Afghan government can deny sanctuary to terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda to prevent planning of attacks against the homeland.
Other threats, though, loom on the horizon, and the United States can husband its military forces, reduce operational costs, and prepare for future combat by employing private Military Mentor Teams (MMT), Aviation Support Units (ASU), and Governance Support Elements (GSE). We can do this first in Syria with an economy of force and then review the lessons learned as we transition into Afghanistan.
The private force will be almost entirely former military and law enforcement from multiple countries. Veterans serving again ensures experienced combat-seasoned personnel will be coaching, teaching, and mentoring indigenous forces. The historical case study for this common-sense, cost-saving action that bolsters our alliances and ensures achievement of our enduring strategic interests is the Flying Tigers in the pre-World War II era.
The Flying Tigers were privatized pilots from the U.S. Army Air Corps, Navy, and Marine Corps. President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized their establishment and mission to protect the Chinese against Japanese aggression in 1941. After training in Burma, the Flying Tigers saw combat against Japan less than two weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Its members were paid double or triple the salary of their military counterparts and they achieved mission success. Official records show they destroyed nearly 300 Japanese aircraft. They were disbanded in July 1942 when the 23rd Fighter Group assumed much of their equipment and mission.
The Flying Tiger example is one where a private force was well-positioned before conflict, setting the conditions for transition into conflict for the U.S. Air Force. Instead of on the front end of conflict, today’s need in Syria and Afghanistan is on the back end, to facilitate U.S. withdrawal and maintenance of hard-fought gains by Coalition Forces.
The real opportunity now is to transition in Syria first and learn from that experience before committing to a transition plan in Afghanistan. The move makes sense in every respect. The U.S. has invested nearly $1 trillion in Afghanistan since the war’s inception and has another $50 billion on tap for 2019. The privatized force can do the job about 85 percent cheaper with the prospect of being more effective. The Military Mentor Teams, Aviation Support Units, and Governance Support Elements are scaled and embedded with the indigenous forces for the duration of the fight, not rotating every six to 12 months. The need on the ground in both Syria and Afghanistan is for continued foreign internal defense, which only our special forces units can provide. The U.S. military doesn’t have enough special forces units to be everywhere they are needed.
History supports presidential authorization for the use of private military contractors during transition operations to help the U.S. and its allies achieve strategic aims. Now is the time to begin the transition, secure our vital interests, and husband our precious resources.
Retired US Army Brigadier Gen. Anthony J. Tata, Brigadier General, was the deputy commanding general of U.S. forces in Afghanistan from 2006-07
Erik Prince is CEO of Frontier Resource Group